The Moses Five – Defiant Love (Part 4)

Part Four, the conclusion of the sermon entitled The Moses Five – Defiant Love which was originally given on Mother’s Day, May 14, 2017 at Midway Mennonite Church in Columbiana, OH.


Sermon Scripture Text: Exodus 1:15-2:10 (NRSV)

Four hundred and forty words make up our passage today.  While there may not be a lot of words, there is a lot we can take away from these verses of scripture and the story of the Moses 5.  We can see that God can use us when we least expect it.

He also uses those people that you would least expect to be used.  In this case, he uses all women behind the scenes.  It is the females that Pharaoh considered “safe” and not an enemy to his kingdom that protect the leader God is preparing.

We see that it is possible to be used in God’s work behind the scenes and never see the actual outcome of what God is working.  It is most likely none of the Moses Five except Miriam were still alive to see Moses return at the age of 80 to Egypt to lead God’s people out of bondage and into the Promised Land.

The Moses 5 are all women of true compassion and defiant love.  From them we learn about faith, courage, hope, perseverance, trust, and resourcefulness.  Moses’ mother Jochebed is an incredibly strong woman, but we see that she doesn’t complete her task of raising her child alone.  It takes several brave, strong women to do this.

It took a community then, and it still takes a community of strong women today.  People who choose do the right thing every time, not just when people are watching.  People who know God and who are willing to be part of his Kingdom work here on this earth.

Today we are celebrating Mother’s Day.  A day set aside for us to remember our mothers that are no longer with us and celebrate the ones that are still here.  Our passage of scripture today shows us a mother, a sister, an adoptive mother, and complete strangers who choose to serve God by doing the right thing despite the rulings of men or standards of their society.  Let us remember and celebrate these women today, and the example they set for us.  They all use compassion and defiant love to overcome the obstacles they encounter in their lives and carry out God’s love to those around them.

All around us are women of compassion and love.  We fill the roles of mothers, grandmothers, adoptive mothers, foster mothers, aunts, sisters or even as friends who are mentors and teachers.  To date in my life I have been blessed with many great and Godly women who have helped to shape me into the person I am today.  Some I am related too, some are women God has sent my way at the right times along my journey.  Women serving God who have helped me learn lessons of grace and humility.

We can all be people of compassion and love.  God’s people.  We see this same kind of message repeated in the New Testament as well.  In 1 Peter 5:5 we read, “In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders.  And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”’

Likewise, we read in 2 Timothy 2:24-25, And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness.  God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth.

In his book, Cure for the Common Life (pg. 132) Max Lucado phrases it like this, Jesus entered the world to serve.  We can enter our jobs, our homes, our church.  Servanthood requires no unique skill or seminary degree.  Regardless or your strengths, training, or church tenure, you can…”

The world today is looking for people of compassion and love.  God’s people – men and women who choose to do the right thing despite the consequence to them and who always have their trust in God.  Even during the hard times.

Our world is hungry for righteous voices.  Those willing to reach out and help others.  Perhaps it is giving support and encouragement to a young mother who is struggling.  Or it could be reaching out to a girl to help guide her through the turbulence of the adolescent years.  It could even be as simple as taking a child to the movies here and there and chatting with them on the car ride.

Our obedience to God’s call spans across racial divides and borders of countries.  Today we read about an Egyptian princess who showed compassion and love to her enemy, a Hebrew.  We see Jesus teaching this same love of enemy in the New Testament in the parable of the good Samaritan.  Egyptian or Hebrew, Samaritan or Jew, we are all God’s children and subject to his ways.  Jesus tells us in Matthew 25:31-40,

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

God uses us in unexpected ways.  We just have to be willing to answer his call, obeying his teachings and meeting the needs of those around us.  No matter what the personal cost is to us.   We, like the Moses 5, are all called to be strong and courageous people of God who spread compassion and love in a world that is hurting.

Be a person of defiant love.


If you missed Part Three it can be found here.

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The Moses Five – Defiant Love (Part 3)

Part Three of the sermon entitled The Moses Five – Defiant Love which was originally given on Mother’s Day, May 14, 2017 at Midway Mennonite Church in Columbiana, OH.

Sermon Scripture Text: Exodus 1:15-2:10


Eventually Jochebed realizes that she can no longer keep her son hidden and safe.  She is a woman of tremendous faith, and comes up with a plan.  In verse 3 of chapter 2 we read, “When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river.  She is going to use the very water meant to kill her son to somehow bring about his salvation!  Jochebed is letting her baby boy go and trusting in God that he will provide safety for the boy.

Verses 4-6 introduce us to the final two women of the Moses 5, His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.  The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him. “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said.

Although we meet both Miriam, the sister of Moses, and the Pharaoh’s daughter towards the end of our passage today, their part in God’s plan is no less important than the parts carried out by Shiphrah, Puah, and Jochebed.

Miriam has been tasked by her mother to follow the basket the baby is in to see what becomes of it.  We don’t know how far she had to follow the basket, but I would be willing to guess it wasn’t very far.  Jochebed would know that the Nile was considered a sacred and religious source for the royalty of Egypt to bathe in. She knew the spot where the daughter of Pharaoh would be bathing.

Having protected her son for three months, I have no doubt the spot she launched his little basket ark from was very specifically chosen.  Perhaps the spot was even given to her or Miriam in a dream.  We know that in later life Miriam would be a prophetess for her people.

The basket does reach the area where the Pharaoh’s daughter has come to bathe.  It is she who opens the basket that is floating in the water.  She immediately comes to the right conclusion that this is a Hebrew baby and immediately is moved to compassion, but she has a choice to make.

Does she obey her father’s command and throw the baby in the basket into the Nile?  She may have been debating what to do with this baby when a strange girl of 10 or 12 appears out of the reeds.

Our final verses from today’s scripture reading, verses 7-10 give us the rest of the story of the Moses 5, “Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”

This brave daughter of Jochebed shows no hesitation and has the intelligence to not betray her relationship to the baby in the basket.  Perhaps it was God’s nudging presence that propelled Miriam boldly forward up to the Pharaoh’s daughter where she brazenly offers her assistance to find a wet nurse.

The time for the Pharaoh’s daughter’s choice is at hand.  And she also chooses defiant love.  She immediately agrees, taking on the responsibility of the child.  She doesn’t stop to consider what could happen to her for disobeying her father.

Could it be that at some point in time she also, like the midwives, had been introduced to the God of Israel?  We have no way to know.  But her acceptance of the child set in motion the protection he needed to survive, as well as put into place his getting the education that would help him lead the Israelites out of Egypt and then across the desert for 40 years.

Jochebed is rewarded for her faith in God.  Not only does she get to take Moses back home with her, but she is paid to continue to care for her own son for a few more years.  She doesn’t just nurse him that day by the shores of the Nile.

During the time she is given with him, I would guess that Jochebed made sure to teach her son as much as she could about the God of Israel and his promise to Abraham.  She would be preparing him to not fall under the false teachings about Egyptian Gods.  Then she lets him go once more, giving him up to his adoptive mother and trusting his care to God.


If you enjoyed Part Three, please visit next week for the final post in this series, Part Four.  If you missed Part Two it can be found here.

The Moses Five – Defiant Love (Part 2)

Part Two of the sermon entitled The Moses Five – Defiant Love which was originally given on Mother’s Day, May 14, 2017 at Midway Mennonite Church in Columbiana, OH.


Sermon Scripture Text: Exodus 1:15-2:10 (NRSV)

Pharaoh is desperate to get this population under control before they take over everything, so he deploys plan A.  He enslaves the Hebrews and tries to basically get the population under control by working them to death.  Even with the harsh and grueling working conditions, the Hebrew people continue to grow.  Is this God’s providential hand we are seeing at work here?  When the powers of earth try to subdue his people, God continues to work behind the scenes to allow the people of God to grow.   He is building a nation out of the nomadic tribe of Israel.

Realizing Plan A has failed, Pharaoh moves on to Plan B.  This plan is a lot more devious.  If Pharaoh can’t subdue the population by working them to death, he will cut off the population before they have a chance to grow!  In verse 16 we read, “when you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.   The midwives are to help birth the baby, then somehow end the baby’s life should he happen to be male while they are cleaning him up after birth.  To cover this up they are to present him back to his parents as if he had not survived the birth or died as a complication of the birth.

Here is where we meet the first two of the Moses Five.  We are given their names in verse 15.  Shiphrah and Puah.  These women were not the only two midwives to the Hebrews, but they were most likely the heads of groups of midwives.

They are also most likely not Hebrews, but Egyptian women.  The text doesn’t tell us a whole lot about them. However, I think it would be safe to conclude these women are indeed Egyptian – why would the Pharaoh instruct Hebrew women to kill their own race?  He gives this order to Egyptian women because he feels he commands their loyalty.

Verse 17 tells us, “But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live.  Regardless of their nationality, these women make their living bringing life into the world, not taking life out of the world.  Whether Egyptian or Hebrew, these women know the God of Israel and they know that the order of Pharaoh to kill the innocent baby boys is wrong.  They knowingly choose to ignore his command.  Shiphrah and Puah know that eventually Pharaoh will most likely catch on to the fact that they are disobeying his command, but defiantly continue on with birthing Hebrew children rather than killing them.  Despite the consequences to themselves, they choose what is right and thereby choose to willingly serve God.


We are given the outcome of their choices in verses 18-21: “So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?” The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.

With Plan A to kill the Hebrews by working them to death a failure, and Plan B to have the midwives secretly kill off all male babies a disaster, Pharaoh now moves on to Plan C.  This is his boldest plan yet, and throws caution to the wind.  It is no longer a secret that Pharaoh wants to control the population size of the Hebrews but public knowledge.  Pharaoh calls on all of his subjects in the final verse of chapter one of the book of Exodus, Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.

It is in this political climate that Jochebed, the third of the Moses 5, finds herself pregnant for a third time.  She already has a daughter as well as a son who is around the age of three.  Jochebed must go through this pregnancy hearing the sounds of death patrol squads that are seeking out baby boys and tossing them to their deaths in the Nile River.  Does she hope for a girl?  Does she fear for a boy and cry out to God to protect her unborn child by making this child a girl?  The text doesn’t tell us.  Chapter two of the book of Exodus begins: Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months…”  What it does tell us is that the third child was indeed a boy.  And there was something special about him.

All new parents think their baby is the most precious baby ever born, but the word in the original language of the text tells us that what Jochebed sees is something more.  Somehow, she sees her child is marked for special work for God.

The word used for fine here is “tov”.  We hear that word still today in Jewish toasts of mazel tov!  Tov, which is translated as good or fine, is the same word that is used in the description of the creation in Genesis.

Filled with the defiant, protective love of a mother, and filled with trust in her God, Jochebed manages to hide her new born child for three months!  Perhaps she received some inspiration and support for the civilly disobedient midwives.  Can you imagine how hard this would be to do in such close quarters as the Hebrew slaves most likely lived in?  How do you hide or muffle the loud cries of a baby that is hungry or tired?  Scriptures don’t tell us how, just that she did.  Again, we see the hand of God in the midst of all of this bringing about HIS will.  She is willing to risk everything, her life and the lives of her family, to do what is right.


If you enjoyed Part Two, please visit next week for Part 3.  If you missed Part One it can be found here.

 

The Moses Five – Defiant Love (Part 1)

Part One of the sermon entitled The Moses Five – Defiant Love which was originally given on Mother’s Day, May 14, 2017 at Midway Mennonite Church in Columbiana, OH.


Sermon Scripture Text: Exodus 1:15-2:10(NRSV)

Imagine, if you can, what it must feel like to realize you are a persona non-grata where you live.  You are an alien living in a foreign land among people that consider you less than them.  You have no country to call your own.

Now, imagine you are this same person, and the citizens of the country you live in not only dislike you, but are also afraid of you and fearful of your husbands and sons.  You live in constant fear for the safety of yourself, your husband, and especially your children.

Then you find out you are pregnant again!  Something that should be cause for great joy is marred by great fear. You have little time for celebration as you are already worried about how to protect your child from the society you live in from the very first moment after giving birth.

I don’t know about you, but I would be pretty scared if I were to find myself in this situation.  I can only imagine that this must be exactly the way that Jochebed felt when she discovered she was pregnant for a third time.  Are you familiar with this name?

Jochebed’s story is found in the book of Exodus, where we are introduced to her as the mother of Moses.  She is a person of little importance, but she finds herself caught up in the story of God’s redemption for the people of Israel.  Through Jochebed’s willing obedience and faith in the God of Israel, her actions were instrumental in the protection of her son Moses.  That protection would allow for a great leader of the Exodus to reach adulthood.

But she was not alone in doing this.  It took five strong, courageous women, the Moses Five, to love, teach and raise Moses and ensure that he would survive his childhood.  A childhood that was stacked against his survival.  Women who lived lives of defiant love.


How did Jochebed and the Children of Israel find themselves in this rather scary place?  I believe we need to turn back a little in our Bibles.  Back to where it all begins with a covenant made with Abraham.

In Genesis 15 we find that God is making a promise to Abraham.   His descendants, that would start with his own child that he and Sarah will have together, will be as numerous as the stars.  But this promise is also followed by a prophecy.  In Genesis 15:12-15 we read, As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know this for certain, that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your ancestors in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age.    And God is faithful to his word.  He always follows through with his promises.

I’m sure most of us are pretty familiar with the story from here.  Abraham’s son is Isaac, whose son is Jacob.  Jacob has several sons, but one of them becomes prominent and given a powerful position in the government of the Pharaoh of Egypt.

Joseph, who was betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery, finds himself in the land of Egypt.  But God uses this for good.  In the closing chapters of Genesis, peace has been restored within the family and forgiveness extended from Joseph to his brothers. All of the house of Jacob come to Egypt to live in this foreign land with Joseph in order to escape a famine in their own country.  All is well for the descendants of Abraham…

Remember the prophecy made to Abraham?  The one about 400 years of slavery in a foreign land?  In Exodus 1:5-14 we see,

The total number of people born to Jacob was seventy. Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers, and that whole generation.  But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.  Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.”

While there is some debate between scholars as to whether the 400-year timeline begins with Ismael persecuting Isaac when he is five or begins with the time of Jacob and his family going to Egypt, in these passages, we see clearly the prophecy coming true.  The new Pharaoh has forgotten the favor shown to Joseph and his family.

Not only has he forgotten this, but the sheer number of Israelites are making him nervous.  The original seventy Israelites that made up the number of Jacob’s family that immigrated to Egypt has exploded to a population of several hundred thousand!


If you enjoyed Part One, please visit next week for Part Two.

 

Evangelism & Human Longing

To always be relevant, you have to say things that are eternal. –Simone Weil

Relevance was a trendy word in the church a few years ago.  There was a stampede towards making churches hip and tech-savvy. Now the pendulum has swung the other way.  Authenticity is ‘in’ and the more ‘traditional’ model is being heralded as the church of the future.  Detailed statistics are used to explain whichever direction the millennials or Generation X, Y and Z are heading –in most cases, right out the church door.  While cultural and demographic studies have their place, the church that chases relevance (or authenticity) will forever be chasing a constantly-shifting illusion.  

Scripture offers us an alternative to chasing fads.  In John 4 we catch a unique glimpse of Jesus’ methods of evangelism.  Instead of relying on culture to define his mission or methods, Jesus taps into the timeless longings that spring from every human heart.

Now he had to go through Samaria… Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well.  It was about noon when a Samaritan woman came to draw water. John 4:4,6-7

Awkward hardly begins to describe this scene.  Wells were the nightclubs of the Middle East where men and women would meet.  Jacob and Moses had both met their wives at wells.  Here was a lone man and lone woman together without another person in sight. To add to the intrigue, Jesus and this woman could not have been more different.  Jesus was a Jew, a man and a religious teacher. 

She was Samaritan and a woman barely hanging on to the fringe of social respectability.

John mentions that it was the hottest time of day (noon). Jacob’s well sits a considerable distance from the town.  Bible commentators say there were at least two closer wells.  It did not take a genius to put two and two together. Here was a woman who was purposefully trying to avoid running into anyone she knew.  Her goal was to get her water and get back home –back to being invisible.

Jesus notices her and asks:  “Would you give me a drink?”

Jesus’ request is shocking on two levels.  First, Jesus intentionally places himself in a position of need from this Samaritan woman.  She holds the jug and the means of drawing water. She has the power to grant his request or walk away. Jesus surrenders any moral high-ground that might be associated with his birth or station in life (as a male, a Jew and a religious moral teacher) and puts her in control of the interaction.

Secondly, most Jews would have preferred to die of thirst than to beg water from a half-breed Samaritan.  Jesus is violating a number of social taboos –a fact the woman is quick to point out (v. 9).  Yet Jesus brushes aside the social conventions of status, racial prejudice and sexual inequality that separate them.  Jesus talks to her as a valued person.  

Jesus invites her into honest, open dialog on equal footing.

The Samaritan woman turns out to be a worthy opponent.  She dodges, evades and parries like a pro.  She attempts to bait Jesus into a theological standoff (v. 20). Interestingly, Jesus does not seem deterred by her skepticism.  If anything, he seems to welcomes her intellectual engagement and religious objections.  

Throughout their discourse, Jesus does not lose sight of what is ultimately at stake. He keeps bringing the conversation back to living water.  For the Samaritan woman, the necessity of water -and her foray to retrieve it- was a daily reminder of her very public shame.  Jesus turns the symbol of her shame –her need for water- into the source of her redemption.  

In the end, it is not Jesus’ correct theological responses that win her over, but his value of her.

The change is remarkable and immediate.  She rushes back to town. This woman, who only moments before had been so carefully to avoid public attention, is now proclaiming to the entire town:  “Come and see the man who told me everything I ever did.  Could this man be the Christ?” (v. 29) Jesus has not only transformed her perception of herself but also transformed her relationship to her community.  The social conventions that designated her as an outsider, no longer seem significant.  She is already accepted.  She wastes no time in sharing the source of her joy.  

Cultural trends and demographic studies have their value in today’s church.  Yet, constantly changing cultural trends require ever-evolving strategies. It becomes a problem when cultural trends become the primary tool for church evangelism.

Jesus taps into the timeless universal longings that spring from every human heart. 

Jesus was acutely perceptive to the cultural trends and complexities of his day.  Yet at no point does he allow culture to define his mission or his methods.  If anything, Jesus’ methods fly in the face of the status quo. Jesus intentionally seeks out those on the margins of society –the mentally ill, the socially ostracized and the morally compromised. His message does not rely on slick gospel presentations or cultural trends.  Instead Jesus taps into the timeless universal longings that spring from every human heart –the need for love, forgiveness and belonging.   Two thousand years later, those needs remain the same.